A GRIEVING mum turned detective — putting a tracking device inside a teddy bear — to catch the thief who was stealing from her murdered son’s grave.
The man she trapped was jailed yesterday for 12 months after he admitted stealing from 16-year-old Andrew Holland’s resting place.
Joan Holland was so devastated by losing her son in 2007 that she has visited his grave every Sunday to place items on it she thought he would like.
But Mrs Holland and her family became frustrated and angry that the gifts kept going missing.
After they found the grave completely stripped on Mother’s Day this year, they decided to act.
Mrs Holland’s son Martin bought a £200 tracker and they stitched it into a teddy bear, leaving it on the grave in St Michael’s churchyard, Great Lever, at 3.30pm on April 18.
Lindsay Thomas, prosecuting, told Bolton Crown Court that the next day, at 5pm, Mrs Holland’s daughter-in-law received an automatic alert warning her the teddy was being moved and the family was able to track the teddy’s route via GPS.
It led them to Andrew Balshaw’s flat in Holcombe Crescent, Kearsley, where police arrested him and recovered the bear, as well as other items including an angel which had been stolen from the grave six months earlier and a porcelain dog belonging to the family.
David Toal, defending, said 48-year-old Balshaw had not stolen the items to sell.
He said: “They were, in effect, wholly inappropriate gifts to his partner.”
After his arrest Balshaw initially claimed he had bought the teddy and found the other items, but then later pleaded guilty to theft and possessing a small amount of cannabis.
In a statement read out in court Mrs Holland told Recorder Jeremy Lasker about the devastating effect the thefts had had on her.
She said: “Since Andrew died the only comfort I have gained is by going to the graveside.
“I feel so angry someone would take items from his grave.
“The only thing I can do is go to his graveside and leave the ornaments I know he would love.
“That small comfort has been scarred.”
At the time Balshaw stole the teddy he was already on bail over theft of a bicycle.
The court heard Balshaw was sorry for committing the offence and now understands how his victims feel after suffering the loss of his grandfather recently.
Mr Toal added that while on remand in prison Balshaw has been targeted by other prisoners.
“Because of the nature of this offence, he has been significantly bullied and subject to violence,” he said.
But Recorder Lasker, who described the Holland family’s actions as clever and astute, told Balshaw his crime was “heartless and callous”.
He said: “The public would be outraged if I did not pass a sentence of imprisonment on you.
“There is no doubt that this family have suffered severely by what you have done.
“There is nothing I can say in passing sentence on you that is likely to assuage the grief or upset of the victims.”
Andrew Holland was stabbed to death outside Ashys takeaway in Plodder Lane, Farnworth, on August 17, 2007.
His grave was first targeted in 2008, just a year after his death.
Mrs Holland wept in court as Balshaw was jailed for 12 months.
Speaking to The Bolton News after the case, she said: ”It is not long enough, but at least justice has been done. I think he’s sick.”
She said she had no sympathy for him and believes he has targeted other graves as well as her son’s.